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The History Of The Official Chicago Christmas Tree

By John Dodge

CHICAGO (CBS) -- For 101 years now, the City of Chicago has lit up an official tree to celebrate Christmas.

The city's first tree, a 35-foot spruce, was lit on Christmas Eve in Grant Park in 1913.

Eventually, the tree morphed into a complex amalgam of several smaller trees--with the first being in 1956.

The tree made its way to its current home at Daley Plaza in 1966.

For many years, the city spent weeks assembling about 100 trees into one giant, perfectly shaped mega tree. As the years went by, the tree lighting was moved up to before Thanksgiving, to take advantage of tourism and expanded holiday shopping. The tree is now lit in tandem with the opening of the Christkindlemarket.

However, the mega-tree practice ended in 2008 when CBS 2 Investigative reporter Pam Zekman was assigned to do a story on the cost of producing the tree.

Old Chicago Christmas Tree
Here is the so-called mega tree, an assemblage of several smaller trees.

She found that the tree consisted of a rather environmentally unfriendly 113 smaller trees and cost a whopping $300,000 to assemble.

As the city was struggling with a budget deficit and the nation was faced with a economic crisis not seen since the Depression, Mayor Daley ordered some changes.

The following year, the city decided to erect a single tree, donated by a Chicago area family. In 2010, the public voted on the best tree for the job.

The cost to transport, set up and light the 2014 tree comes to $142,594--all covered by the corporate sponsor, Underwriters Laboratories, according to the city's office of special events.


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